On Thursday morning, a S.C. House committee will consider naming a highway in Hampton County after a baseball player named Dwight Smith. And a Kershaw County bridge after a community leader named Jerry Nealy. And an interchange in Columbia after a preacher named Blakey Scott.
It’ll also consider H.5009 to name the interchange of I-85 and I-385 in Greenville County after a president named Donald Trump. And H.5026 to name the same junction after a former first couple named Barack and Michelle Obama.
Those last two are guaranteed to anger large minorities of South Carolinians, which up until now has not been the motivating factor in naming public infrastructure. The Trump proposal came out of nowhere and goes out of its way to insult the president’s critics and the media; the Obama proposal was introduced in rebuttal to the Trump proposal but doesn’t include any insults.
The John Hardee Expressway is just the latest S.C. road named for a living politician who wound up in trouble with the law. The Legislature should prohibit naming roads, bridges and other public structures after living people.
All five of those resolutions should be rejected for reasons that have nothing to do with how we feel about Mr. Trump or the Obamas: because they name public infrastructure after living people.
Usually, we object to that practice because of the possibility that the honored individual could go on to be convicted of a crime or otherwise discredit the state — as has happened far too often.
Think, most recently, about John Hardee, the longtime member of the S.C. Transportation Commission who was incarcerated this summer for soliciting a prostitute — after pleading guilty to obstructing a federal corruption investigation. The prostitute episode was so notorious that the Transportation Commission removed his name from an expressway leading to the Columbia airport. Usually, it takes an act of the Legislature to revoke such an honor — which, as far as we can tell, has been done only after former Comptroller General Earle Morris Jr. was convicted of securities fraud.
Many South Carolinians would say Mr. Trump has already embarrassed us; many others would say the same about Mr. Obama, although for different reasons. And even if you consider one or both of these men an exemplary leader who deserves any honor our state can offer, the fact is that either or both could one day do something that would change everybody’s mind. And there we’d be stuck with the embarrassing honor.
Surely this isn’t real. Surely a member of the S.C. House isn’t seriously asking S.C. State University to name a new building after disgraced former Sen. Robert Ford.
Fortunately, our lawmakers don’t name as many highways, interchanges, bridges and buildings after living people as they used to. Unfortunately, despite some movement since Mr. Hardee’s escapades, we don’t yet have a legislative consensus on banning such honors.
We’d like to see a ban. And in fact, at least one sponsor of the Trump resolution has publicly advocated such a ban; clearly, hypocrisy isn’t a bar to public service. Even absent that ban, though, the House Invitations and Memorial Resolutions Committee should reject the Trump resolution. And the Obama resolution. And the Smith, Nealy and Scott resolutions.
It also should reject two resolutions on the agenda to honor people who are dead, but who don’t deserve state honors.
H.4821 names a road in Hampton County after a sheriff (Rudy Loadholt) who was charged with criminal sexual conduct against employees and other crimes. After a jury failed to convict him, he demoted his chief deputy and others who testified against him, and promoted those who stood by him.
If we could rely on the Legislature routinely exercising good judgment, we wouldn’t need a new law about naming public infrastructure after public officials. But we can't, and some interesting bills are pending.
H.4822 names an interchange in Hampton County after a solicitor (Randolph Murdaugh) whom the S.C. Supreme Court repeatedly had to rebuke for egregious jury arguments in death penalty cases. (Once, in a rape case, he warned jurors that if they acquitted the defendant, he would drop the charges against other accused rapists.)
Most roads in South Carolina already have perfectly good names. If lawmakers have to pick new ones, they should stick to dead people who either didn’t serve in public office or else had spotless records.